Anti-matter - Dangers of (Version 1.4):

While Phase World lists anti-matter as the primary source of power for Phase World starship, Anti-matter is unfortunately not the wonder power source that some people think it is. Many people who watch a lot of science fiction get their ideas about anti matter from Star Trek, which the writers seem to not realize how dangerous anti- matter really is. An example of the way Star Trek treats anti-matter can be seen in an early episode of Star Trek Next Generation. This episode has Wesley Crusher carrying around enough anti-matter to propel a starship into warp within what appears to be a clear plastic globe. Even if the systems I will be discussing below could be put into something so small (the shell of the globe) the simple fact is that anti-matter would be a material treated like Uranium and Plutonium is today and it would not be part of some High School students chemistry set.

Anti-matter / Matter reactions are very efficient on a mass to power output ratio and are very tempting as a power source but the dangers of the system need to be known so that people can consider this.

Some individuals responding to previous versions of this trying to show there are safe methods are that are not powered but the author has been unable to find any references to these systems. The simple truth is that no device that is immune to heavy battle damage. Any system that when power fails that can potentially devastate a planet should be treated lightly. No redundant safety is foolproof.

The problem is further increased in both the Phase World Book and South America 2 Book because both have smaller craft that will operate within an atmosphere, power armors, and ground vehicles that operate on anti-matter power systems. If a starship that is 1000 miles from another detonates due to its magazine or reactor getting breached, the ship is obliterated but the other ships would be undamaged. In the atmosphere, it is a different case though. A drop shuttle with a 50 year fuel supply of anti-matter detonating will devastate the entire planet and in power armors, if the power armors safeties collapsing it will cause all units within 50 miles to be destroyed. If the power system of a power armor can destroy all friendly units, this is a power supply that is to dangerous to consider being on power armors.

The problem with anti-matter is fairly simple. This is that anti-matter will react with any matter that it comes in contact with. This means that the anti-matter must always be kept separate from matter when in storage. There are a few ways of doing this. One is to use magnetic fields to keep anti-matter in a vacuum and away from matter. This field does not have to be especially high powered but it has to be always active. In phase world, they could have gravity based systems that work similarly. Another way is to use special laser to cool the anti-matter so that it is also kept away from matter. The problem is that all three of these systems are powered and that they must be kept powered even when all other systems are shut down. Some individuals have stated that the anti-matter could be kept in passive magnetic storage systems but the author has been unable to find any scientific reference or support for those type of systems. The only time the matter and anti-matter come into contact is with a special reaction chamber that is itself contained in a magnetic containment.

Fusion reactors do not have as many problems because they only use a magnetic containment in the actual reaction chamber. There is not magnetic or other powered containment for the fuel supplies (Usually deuterium or Helium 3). This lack of powered storage means that a fusion reactor can be shut down completely.

Accidents and battle damage can happen to any system. Because vehicles in both Phase World and South America 2 are designed for combat, they are as heavily armored as possible. While ejection systems for the anti-matter may be possible for starships they are not possible for power armors and other ground units because even if the anti-matter is ejected, it will hit the atmosphere and have the same effect. Even on starships, an ejection system for the anti-matter will normally mean a weak spot in the ships armor. With a fusion power system, the magnetic field can be slowly reduced stopping the reaction or the hydrogen feeds can be cut. Either will stop the reaction with a few seconds. The reaction area will still be an extremely high temperature and may destroy the reactor compartment but the rest of the vehicle will still be intact. This was explained in a book about fusion reactors that the author was reading at the time of writing this post. This case was a case of a reactor on a fault line, what happens during an incident is that safeties would shut down the reactor but high temperature would be a problem. The book later explains that using the right shielding materials such a those used for the space shuttles tiles would remove that problem as well.. On starships and large vehicles, another fusion reactor will take over the power load and in smaller vehicles and in power armors the pilots will be able to evacuate or eject. Fusion reactors can have catastrophic failure but they are much more contained in scope. On a starship, it will probably mean destroying about half of the starship and killing half the crew in the process, in medium sized vehicles, it means probably destroying the vehicle and an area 20 to 50 feet around it, and in the case of power armors, it means probably destroying the power armor and an area 5 to 10 feet around it. This is dangerous for crew but at least it will not destroy entire military units or armies.

For missiles, the problem is very similar. If you assume that in Anti-matter warheads the anti-matter is always kept in the warhead itself then there is the problem that the warhead must always have an active magnetic containment on which means it must always be powered from an external source. This means than any accident or battle damage to either the launcher or the magazine can easily cause the magnetic containment on a warhead to collapse by either hitting the containment or the power feeds to the containment. The missiles in the launcher can normally be ejected fairly quickly and the magazine is usually heavy armored but there is always a risk. A nuclear or fusion warhead (the author assumes fusion warheads are essentially tiny fusion reactors that the magnetic containment collapses catastrophically when the warhead strikes but is unpowered before launch) does not have this problem because there are no powered containment systems while in storage in either case.

Some material about Star Trek have indicated that the anti-matter for Photon Torpedoes is stored in the same anti-matter tank as the engines use and then piped to the warheads for the torpedoes. This actual has more problems than always storing the anti-matter on the warheads. This is because while the storage is heavily armored, the magazines are heavily armored, and the launchers can eject they torpedoes quickly, the anti-matter has to be transported via tubes with magnetic fields inside of them from the storage to the missiles themselves. This means that there are far more exposed areas that can be hit that contain or potentially contain anti-matter. In the case of one of these tubes being damaged and if warning systems are damaged by battle damage, anti-matter could easily reach a damaged area of the feed system and the anti-matter could react to the matter of the ship itself.

In both replies to previous versions of this article and personal discussions, some people have stated that the safety systems involved in the future. This is not always the case. For some problems, there is no complete solution. In the Fifteenth century, if a galleon gets hit in its magazine, the ship would blow up and disintegrate. In World War Two (five hundred or so years later), a battleship gets hit in a magazine and gets destroyed. This happened to both the American battleships Arizona and the British battleship Hood. In fact this is a potential problem for ships today. Sprinkler systems and fire fighting equipment have reduce this problem but it is a major concern.

Solutions: The Biggest hurdle that needs to be overcome is the influences of Star Trek and the many inconsistencies that all of the movies, the multiple television series, and multiple novels have presented. At first, the gamers that the Author games with refused to even consider the problem or consider that there was a problem and had to be convinced. Once gamers realize the problem, the solutions are not that difficult and can be done quickly. The author recommends options number two and three.

  1. Complete Conversion to Fusion: This is the most extreme solution and involves changing all vehicles to fusion. This is simple to do, all statistics remain the same but the engines are considered advanced fusion not anti-matter. Missile warhead damaged are kept the same (4D6x100 for anti-matter cruise missiles) but instead of being considered anti-matter, the warheads should be considered nuclear or fusion. A less extreme version of this is to have some militaries that do not use anti-matter as a power source.
  2. Change Smaller Vehicles and all Ground Based Units to Fusion: This will prevent vast devastation of planets when either a starfighter operating within and atmosphere or a power armor gets destroyed. It also prevents the loss of multiple units because one unit is destroyed. Smaller vehicles would also have less room for safety equipment which would also make anti-matter more dangerous. The author recommends that for space vehicles, both starfighters and assault shuttles get converted to fusion. Others I have spoken to have recommended that destroyers and frigates set converted to fusion as well. This option can be used with option number 3. The author strongly recommends this option along with option number 3.
  3. Issue of Anti-Matter Warheads only During Times of War: Anti-Matter warheads are only issued to starships when the Government is actively at war. At all other times, the ships will carry nuclear or fusion explosives. This prevents accidents while the ships are not at war yet. This idea would work very well with governments like the CCW because it reduces risk and with the Kreeghor because it puts less dangerous weapons in ships crews that may rebel. This also assumes that anti-warheads do not take fuel from the main ships storage but instead already contain anti-matter. This option can be used with option number 2. The author strongly recommends this option along with option number 2.

Energy released by Matter/Anti-matter Reactions:
Of some interest is how much power is inherent in Anti-Matter and Mischa Campen has calculated the amount of force in a Matter/Anti-matter Reaction. Most Nuclear warheads are less that 5 Mega-Tons and most modern warheads are in the range of hundreds of kilotons. The most powerful nuclear device ever construction was constructed by the old Soviet Union and has a blast of 50 mega-tons but was the size of a LARGE van. Most Anti-matter reactions would probably involve far less anti-matter than this.

First to clear up some definitions:

So now we are left with calculating how much energy is contained in a megaton sized explosion, and how much energy is released when 3 kg of matter is annihilated (1.5 kg anti and 1.5 kg normal matter, one possible listing for the warhead of a photon torpedo from Star Trek.)

First the latter, it is fairly simple.

Now the energy for a megaton.

Now for the power of a photon torpedo:

Final Note:
This is quite a lot of energy. For those of you who say: "But a AM reactor in a powered armor would only contain maybe 1 gram of Anti-Matter so it would not be nearly as dangerous!" You must realize that this is still the energy equivalent of a 45 kiloton nuke. If you insist on wearing armor like that there is one consolation:
If your reactor fails you will

  1. Never know about it (and neither will anyone else within a 5 km radius) and
  2. You will definitely go out with a bang....

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Writeup by Mischa (E-Mail Mischa) and by Kitsune (E-Mail Kitsune).

Copyright © 1998, Mischa & Kitsune. All rights reserved.